3/19/2019 – New ‘Our Schools’ Media Project To Report On Privatization Movement

THIS WEEK: Kentucky Teachers Close Schools Again … Fund Our Future … DeVos Voucher Plan … Oregon Teachers May Strike … New Class Size Legislation


New ‘Our Schools’ Media Project To Report On Privatization Movement

By Jeff Bryant

It’s been some time since I’ve shown up in your inbox but doesn’t mean important education news hasn’t continued to break around the country. An exciting new media project I’ve started called Our Schools, in collaboration with the Independent Media Institute, takes you to the frontlines of these stories – from communities in New Jersey to California – to report on the nationwide effort to privatize and undermine the public education system. I’ve been exposing the false promises of charter schools, voucher programs, and corporate-style reforms and spotlighting how communities are fighting back and often succeeding against the school privatization agenda. My reporting appears on major national news outlets including Salon, AlterNet, and Naked Capitalism. But the best way for you to keep up with this reporting is to subscribe at the Our Schools website. And please help support the project with a generous donation.
Subscribe to Our Schools …
Donate to Our Schools …


‘Tired Of Being Unsupported And Messed With’: Teachers Stage A Bold Protest That Scores National Attention

Our Schools

“Hundreds of other teachers in Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky’s largest school district that includes Louisville, called in sick, prompting the district to close schools for over 100,000 students … The Kentucky teachers’ actions are the latest in what has become a wave of teachers using their collective power to influence legislation in state governments, but the sick-out in Kentucky is also a sign of how teacher protests are evolving. Teachers who once saw labor actions as effective tactical responses to attacks on their financial well-being are now understanding that their labor power is part of a broader strategy to even the playing field in a political landscape that is increasingly unequal. And there’s strong evidence they’re having an impact.”
Read more …

Teachers’ Strikes Prompt Renewed Calls For More Education Funding

The Progressive

“Teachers have been actively protesting their working and living conditions. Many of the disputes have centered around stagnant teacher pay, large class sizes, and down-sized pension arrangements, while others focus on the spread of charter schools and other school ‘choice’ schemes that undermine public schools. These actions highlight an increased show of political power from teachers … The American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in America, hopes to seize on this increase in teacher-led actions. They just launched a nationwide campaign, ‘Fund Our Future,’ which they describe as a ‘major education initiative aimed at pressing lawmakers in state capitals and Congress to increase funding for public schools and universities.'”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Promotes Plan To Hand Over Billions In Federal Tax Credits To Private, Religious And Home Schooling


“DeVos has been touring the country to promote her plan to hand over $5billion dollars in federal tax credits to dramatically expand the number of students attending private schools, religious schools, or even being homeschool. The program, part of a bill in Congress, would be funded through private donations in exchange for tax credits. In other words, tax dollars would effectively be paying for the program, as those dollars will have to be made up by taxpayers … The reception in Sec. DeVos’ stop in Iowa appeared less than enthusiastic. ‘Pitching her proposal to fund scholarships for private school and home-schooled students, federal education secretary Betsy DeVos met behind closed doors Friday with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state leaders and lobbyists’ … Sec. DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz, a big hom-schooling advocate, promote this bill … calling it a ‘civil rights issue.'”
Read more …

Oregon Teachers Plan For Walkout If Budget Deal Isn’t Reached


“After years of negotiations and disappointment with the Oregon State Legislature’s proposed budgets, Oregon educators are saying enough is enough. And if a deal can’t be reached soon, teachers say they plan to hold a walkout. Tad Shannon, who has been president of the Eugene Education Association for seven years, said they’ve kept steady pressure on lawmakers to get the resources teachers need to best serve students. In a letter sent out to teachers, Shannon wrote: ‘No one can do this for us. The time is now. We can’t wait any longer.’ The letter claims Oregon has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation as well as the third highest class size.”
Read more …

Senate Bill Proposes Smaller Class Sizes For High-Poverty School Districts

Next City

“Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced a new bill to incentivize smaller class sizes in kindergarten and first, second and third grades. The legislation, which would allocate $2 billion for competitive grant funding, primarily to high-poverty school districts in the United States, is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NJ) and Michael Bennet (CO) … Influential research has suggested that setting the class size cap below 20 students will yield the greatest benefits, and Merkley’s bill caps class size at 18.”
Read more …

‘Tired of being unsupported and messed with’: Teachers stage a bold protest that scores national attention

Don’t call what Kentucky teachers just did a “wildcat” labor action, at least not when you’re speaking with Tim Hall. Hall, a classroom teacher at Shawnee High School in Louisville, answered my phone call as he was driving to the state capitol in Frankfort to protest the latest slate of education-related bills being considered in the legislature. He and hundreds of other teachers in Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district that includes Louisville, called in sick, prompting the district to close schools for over 100,000 students.

Hundreds of those teachers joined Hall at the state capitol. It was the third time in a week and the second day in a row that enough JCPS teachers called out sick to trigger a full district shutdown. The sick-out spread to four other districts that also had to close. But neither the state teachers’ union nor the local union for Jefferson County had anything to do with organizing the action. In fact, union leaders urged teachers to show up for work, preferring instead to have districts send small teams of teachers to lobby state lawmakers.

Yet Hall bristled at using “wildcat” to describe what JCPS teachers were doing. “I don’t like that word,” he said. “I think our concerns are reflective of teachers not only in JCPS but also across the state.”

The Kentucky teachers’ actions are the latest in what has become a wave of teachers using their collective power to influence legislation in state governments, but the sick-out in Kentucky is also a sign of how teacher protests are evolving.

Teachers who once saw labor actions as effective tactical responses to attacks on their financial well-being are now understanding that their labor power is part of a broader strategy to even the playing field in a political landscape that is increasingly unequal. And there’s strong evidence they’re having an impact.

Teacher Strikes Are Evolving

The teachers, joined by parents and other public education activists, organized the sick-out action on social media sites including the Facebook page for JCPS Leads, which Hall helps facilitate. Teachers went back to work at one point, but then extended their protest to a fourth, fifth, and then a sixth day to ensure controversial bills were killed in the legislature.

The roots of this year’s labor action are in last year’s statewide strike when teachers closed schools across the Bluegrass State to protest a new pension bill that would have put retirement earnings for new teachers at greater risk and shortchanged retirees and senior teachers. This year’s sick-out is different.

First, teachers have a much broader array of targets for their protests. “We want a whole package of bills voted down,” Hall explained.

Once again, a threat to teachers’ pensions, House Bill 525, has stirred the teachers’ ire because it would reduce the participation of educators on the state employee pension board. But two other bills go beyond wage-and-benefits grievances: House Bill 205 that would establish a statewide school voucher program giving tax breaks to those who donate to private school scholarships for special-needs and low-income students, and Senate Bill 250 that would take school principal hiring decisions away from local, site-based committees, which include teachers, and give the district superintendent sole responsibility for the hiring process—the bill applies to JCPS only.

Hall sees all three bills as attacks on democracy. “They’re about taking away our ability to collaborate on how our schools operate,” he said. By removing educators from the pension board, ramping up a statewide voucher program, and undermining teachers’ influence on principal hiring, teachers are being pushed further out to the periphery of decision making, he explained, and in turn, are less able to make their voices heard as advocates for their schools and their students.

Also, there’s a good reason why Jefferson County teachers are taking it upon themselves to lead the labor action and go it alone in speaking out for their colleagues elsewhere in the state. Not only is JCPS the only district affected by the bill to change principal hiring; JCPS is also the only district currently under threat of state takeover. Proponents of charter schools and vouchers are generally seen as the most ardent backers of the takeover effort. And Hall and other teachers see all three bills as efforts to further undermine their participation in governance of their schools and usher in more state control and privatization of schools.

A Movement About Democracy

In taking their demands beyond economic grievances to include issues of governance and local community voice, the Kentucky teachers are joining a strong new trend in the teacher movement.

When West Virginia teachers walked off the job last year and started what’s become known as RedForEd, they generally made wages and benefits the core of their grievances. But in their labor action this year, West Virginia teachers expanded their protests to include issues with privatization, specifically, to fight new legislation that would take public money from traditional districts and use it for charter schools and for private and religious school tuition.

Also this year, teachers in Los Angeles and Oakland, California, made opposition to the unchecked growth of charter schools and their lack of transparency and accountability a centerpiece of the unions’ demands.

Education journalists and “experts” have noticed this trend and described it as mostly a battle over funding for public schools vs. charter schools, voucher programs, and other forms of privatization. But that misses the broader argument teachers make that all education mandates that stem from top-down authority and big money interests are meant to rob teachers of having a voice in how schools are governed.

Teachers are making RedForEd a fight not just for funding but also for political power.

Teacher Strikes Work

There’s evidence that the teachers’ change in strategy will work.

Last year’s RedForEd protests clearly affected state legislation where the protests occurred. According to a new analysis, in four states where teachers walked off the job, state legislatures responded by increasing baseline state funding for schools by 3-19 percent.

This year, teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland led to calls from local governments for moratoriums on new charters and increased regulation of the industry. In response, California state lawmakers acted with “lightning speed” to enact new laws that require more transparency in charter school operations.

How successful were the Kentucky teachers? As of this writing, on the final day of the legislative session, two of the three bills teachers targeted in their protests appear to be dead—the bill restructuring the state pension board and the bill creating a statewide school voucher program. The bill targeting the principal hiring process in JCPS appears to have passed in both chambers and will likely be signed by Governor Matt Bevin.

Two out of three is not a bad batting average in a “red state” where Republicans hold a trifecta of strong majorities in both branches of the state legislature and the governor’s seat. And should the dead bills come back to life, Hall assures me, or similar bills spring up, teachers will return to the capitol.

“We’re tired of being unsupported and messed with,” he said. “Teachers want to have fair ways for us to ensure the public education system continues to provide access to well-supported schools for all kids.”

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selection of Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

(Photo credit: United Teachers of Los Angeles on Twitter)

West Virginia Teachers’ Rapid Strike Victory Shows Why Progressives Must Join Fight Against Privatization

West Virginia’s most recent statewide teacher walkout came and went so quickly there was too little time and attention to comprehend and appreciate the impact the teachers’ actions will likely have long-term on changing the narrative of the teacher movement and how politically progressive advocates and candidates relate to it.

In the very first day of the strike, teachers squelched new state legislation they objected to and then held out an additional day to ensure it would die. The day after schools reopened, the teachers got what they wanted—a “clean” bill increasing teacher pay five percent.

But, unlike their largely successful labor action from last year, this time the teachers weren’t making pocketbook issues the focal points of their demands. Instead, it was all about stopping school privatization through charter schools and a new voucher program. The point of the strike was to oppose a Senate bill that included bringing charters and a voucher program to the state even though the measure included the pay raise teachers wanted. Teachers accompanied their protests in the capitol building with chants of “Hey-hey, ho-ho, charter schools have got to go.”

This was a huge gamble for the teachers, not only because they risked a confrontation with the wealthy establishment that backs charters and vouchers but also because they could alienate the coalition of progressive activists who had supported teachers in the past but had never forcefully opposed charter schools.

Teachers Take a Risk

“There had been no widespread debate on charter schools in West Virginia until now,” Gary Zuckett tells me. Zuckett and the West Virginia Citizen Action Group (WVCAG) for which he serves as executive director gladly joined with other social, economic, and environmental justice movements across the state last year to back West Virginia teachers in their demands for a pay raise and a fix to the state’s broken public employee health program. But neither WVCAG nor the groups’ national affiliate People’s Action had ever before made opposition to school privatization a major policy point.

“It’s true—at the national level, progressives don’t talk a lot about K-12 and charter schools,” says Ryan Frankenberry, executive director of the West Virginia Working Families Party, a hyper-local political party that backs candidates largely for their stances on social, economic, and environmental values and their opposition to big money in politics.

So it was never a sure thing should West Virginia teachers make their stand on opposition to charters that the progressive coalition that backed last year’s strike would have their backs.

Clarifying the Politics of Privatization

When teachers began walking off the job across the country last year, their demands were similar to those that progressive policy activists have long supported, such as workers’ rights, higher wages, and better funding for public services like education.

But for years, the politics of school privatization efforts have been confusing. Charters and school voucher programs have been falsely framed as a civil rights cause. Former President Barack Obama gave charter schools a big boost in his administration’s Race to the Top program. Popular Democratic politicians like New Jersey U.S. senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker have strongly backed voucher programs and taken campaign donations from the charter school industry. Progressive leaders like Vermont U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have been vague on their views about charters. And progressive advocacy groups have either generally supported charters or declined to take a position.

But in this year’s walkouts, teachers have raised the stakes in challenging progressives to come down firmly on their side to oppose further expansion of privatization efforts.

Teacher Strikes Change Minds

Beginning with the strike in Los Angeles, teachers began adding opposition to charter schools to their other demands and making a case that these taxpayer-funded, privately operated schools are harmful to public schools.

“The flavor of the teacher strikes has changed,” writes Education Week reporter Madeline Will. “Unlike last year, when teachers across the country shared a similar narrative of crumbling classrooms and stagnant paychecks, the strike demands now are far-reaching. Now, teachers are pushing back against education-reform policies, like charter schools … There’s no clearer evidence of the shift in teacher activism than in West Virginia.”

In the Mountain State, progressives shifted into the anti-privatization column “because of these strikes,” says Frankenberry. “Teachers were able to convince people that resisting charters and vouchers was about fighting for the future of public schools.”

Progressive organizers in the state also can’t deny what they see and hear about the conditions in their public schools and how they’d be affected by the introduction of charters.

“Teachers already know their schools are strapped for cash,” says Zuckett. “The state is already losing its population of school-aged children,” he notes, adding that the school where his wife works as a counselor lost 10 percent of its students this year alone. “Any loss of resources is going to hurt our schools.”

Strikes Spread to Oakland

As soon as the walkout in West Virginia resolved, a teacher strike in Oakland, California, quickly flamed up.

That strike resembles the strike in Los Angeles in which teachers demanded better pay, smaller class sizes, more nurses, counselors and other support staff, as well as an end to the spread of charter schools. But the negative impact of charter schools is likely even worse in Oakland, where the charters enroll 30 percent of the students in the district and siphon over $57 million from the public schools. To further accommodate the charters, the district has announced plans to close 24 public schools.

As of this writing, Oakland teachers are still on strike, declaring in their latest press release, “When 19 out of every 20 teachers… [are] walking the picket line joined by parents, when our rallies attract thousands, when 97 percent of our students stay home—it’s clear that this community wants what [the teachers’ union] demands.”

As the opposition to charters surges to the front of teacher strikes in Oakland, a new bill swiftly moving through the state legislature, with the strong backing of Governor Gavin Newsom, will tighten oversight of charter schools and demand more financial transparency of them.

The growing opposition to charters spurred by teacher strikes has the charter industry worried. As Politico reports, the success teachers have had in “blaming charter schools for squeezing traditional schools … has raised alarm among charter school backers … who see it as unfair to blame the charter sector for financial woes.”

The growing conflict and sharply contrasting points of view will likely pressure political candidates and progressive activists on the left to take sides.

‘The Fight Is On’

Democrats in West Virginia are “absolutely solidified against charters,” says Frankenberry. “Even more solidified on this than they are on gun control.”

He concedes, however, there are still unresolved issues in how progressives will coalesce on charters elsewhere. His progressive colleagues in states with lots of charters still feel an urge to not totally reject charters because parents whose children attend the schools are often from marginalized communities. And teachers who work in charters are potential targets for labor unions who want to organize the workers.

But he finds in places such as West Virginia, and neighboring Virginia and Kentucky, where there are very few or no charters, opposition to the schools is about saving public education. Opponents are quick to point to high-profile charter school scandals in Ohio and Pennsylvania as examples of what would befall their states. “It’s been 20 years of experimenting,” he says, “and experiments often fail.”

Frankenberry’s hope is that the solidarity shown by progressive opposition to school privatization in West Virginia can rub off on his colleagues in states where charters are more abundant. “We’re showing that we’re not going to accept these schools,” he says. “Maybe the progressive organizers in places where they already have them can get inspiration from us to rein charters in.”

Zuckett foresees opposition to charter schools and voucher programs continuing to be more of a point of contention that progressives will push in their policy positions, and not just in West Virginia. “The fight is on,” he says. “Shame on us if it isn’t.”

# # #

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selection of Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

(Photo credit: Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

[Originally published at Salon.]

Denver Teachers’ Strike Was a Rejection of Education ‘Reform’

A Denver Public Schools teacher pay stub from 2016 shows the complexity of teacher salaries in the district.

“I definitely drank the education reform kool-aid,” recalls Alex Nelson, a Denver teacher who, along with over 5,300 fellow teachers and school support staff, walked off the job earlier this month in a four-day strike that resulted in the teachers having most of their demands met.

Now in his sixth year at Denver Public Schools, Nelson is at Bryant-Webster Elementary where he teaches Math, Science, and Spanish to third- and fourth-grade students. “I was convinced education was failing and needed reform,” he recalls about his early years in the profession.

Back then, Denver schools were still basking in the glow of favorable national media coverage received during the leadership of superintendent, and now current U.S. Senator and expected presidential candidate, Michael Bennet. Under Bennet’s direction from 2005-2009, Denver adopted a package of policies and programs favored by bipartisan education reformers, including measuring school and teacher performance by student test scores, closing low-performing schools, and opening competitive charter schools. After Bennett’s tenure, district leadership transitioned to protege Tom Boasberg who just finished a ten-year term in office maintaining most of the same policies Bennet started.

Denver’s approach to school governance has been much-ballyhooed by politically centrist advocates like David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute, the Clinton-era “ideas shop” that has been pushing the privatization of public services for more than thirty years. Beltway-based think tanks, on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, hail Denver as a model to “transform” the education of low-performing students. And the Brookings Institution named Denver the second-best of the nation’s 100-plus largest school districts.

“The popular narrative of the time was about ‘reform.’” says Nelson. “And we were sold the notion that a new system of teacher compensation and other reforms were going to bring about a new era of better education for low-income kids and higher pay for teachers. It was going to be a breakthrough.”

The compensation system Nelson refers to is called ProComp, which linked teacher pay in part to student test scores and gave bonuses for things such as working in a high-poverty school or a hard-to-fill position. This year, one of the principal demands of the striking teachers was to scrap the system or at least drastically change it to resemble more of a traditional pay schedule where teachers can expect raises based on advanced degrees, additional responsibilities, and longevity.

ProComp is a creation of the education reform ideology which believes that the reason low-income students struggle in schools is because teachers aren’t sufficiently financially incentivized to boost student test scores. Also, schools with large percentages of low-income students tend to have less experienced teachers who turn over more often, and financial incentives might correct for that inequity.

Under ProComp, teachers got a bonus when their evaluations rate them “effective.” There were also schoolwide bonuses, bonuses for “exceeding expectations,” and other hurdles. (In 2015, the individual performance bonuses were modified so that only teachers in schools with the most struggling students could receive bonuses based on individual performance evaluations.)

But the experiences of Denver teachers show that the goals of basing teacher pay on student test scores and rewarding teachers for accepting challenging assignments are at odds with the reality teachers experience in their day-to-day work.

Nelson, who like most other Denver teachers initially agreed to ProComp, now recalls he started to feel like something was wrong when he was teaching at a “tough school,” which was rated “ineffective” based on the test scores of the students, who were mostly low-income, non-white children. He noticed that his colleagues who taught in wealthier schools that were rated “effective” got bigger bonuses. “If you taught at a tough school, you were incentivized to leave it,” he says.

The district set aside money to give additional bonuses to teachers in “highest priority” schools, “but no one understands the metrics for determining the highest priority schools,” Nelson says. There are only thirty schools with this rating, and should the school improve enough to come off the list, it’s not clear what happens to the bonus money.

Also, Nelson says the compensation formula changed over time with fewer hoops and less money. “The salary schedule is not transparent to the typical teacher,” he says.

The result of this convoluted pay structure is that pay levels change so dramatically from month to month that, “when you go to get a loan, it’s hard to tell a bank what your base salary is,” he says.

Due in part to the salary structure, and combined with the rising cost of living in a gentrifying city, teacher turnover rates in the district ballooned to well over 20 percent, with half of new teachers leaving the district within three years beginning in 2012. Teacher turnover rates were highest in schools where students had the greatest needs. Nelson recalls that in his first two years of teaching at that “tough school,” half of the staff turned over each year.

The attrition rate has recently declined somewhat, according to Nelson. “But it’s still too high,” he says. Consequently, schools resemble a “training ground for new teachers before they decide to go elsewhere.”

District officials point to increasing proficiency rates on student standardized tests as proof reforms are working, but community advocates charge that district assessments of school performance levels are inflated, and Denver continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps between white and non-white students in the country.

Research studies on the effects of Denver’s teacher salary system have found mixed results at best, both on its overall effects on student achievement levels as measured by test scores, and on teacher attrition rates.

In their strike negotiations, Denver teachers argued successfully for base-pay increases, a more predictable salary schedule and to eliminate almost all pay-for-performance bonuses. And they compromised to accept the district’s proposal of a $3,000 annual bonus for working in hard-to-staff schools. They also won a demand to get a research study to examine the causes of teacher turnover in the district’s poorest schools. The agreement is expected to be ratified by a vote of the rank-and-file teachers.

“A 20 percent teacher turnover rate is not what’s best for kids,” Nelson says. He and his colleagues say smaller class sizes and more mental and physical health supports for students would go further than any monetary bonus to serve the interests of students and keep their teachers in the classroom.

To Nelson and his fellow teachers, for far too long, Denver has felt “like a lab for education reform, experimenting with a district that will rubber stamp anything presented to them by reform advocates.” They want the experiments to end.

{Originally published at The Progressive.]

LA Teachers Make The Case That Charter Schools Are An Existential Threat To Public Education

“Isn’t it reasonable to have some regulations on charters?” asked Ingrid King, a kindergarten and dual language teacher at Latona Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. She and two of her colleagues spoke to me from the picket lines during the recently resolved teacher strike in her city. When she and over 30,000 teachers and school personnel walked off the job, it closed the nation’s second-largest school system of nearly a half-million students for six days and filled the streets with huge protests.

The strike ended when the district conceded to give teachers a 6 percent pay raise, limit class sizes, reduce the number of student assessments by half, and hire full-time nurses for every school, a librarian for every middle and high school, and enough counselors to provide one for every 500 students.

But the concessions teachers won that will likely have the most impact outside of LA are related to charter schools. The teachers forced the district leader to present to the school board a resolution calling on the state to cap the number of charter schools, and the teachers made the district give their union increased oversight of charter co-locations — a practice that allows charter operations to take possession of a portion of an existing public school campus.

Los Angeles Unified has 277 charter schools, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. The schools serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one in five students. The vast majority of charters are staffed by non-union teachers. (Teachers at a chain of unionized charter schools in the city that joined district teachers on the strike are still on strike.) So the quick takefrom some is the teachers’ union made curbs on charter schools part of their demands because these schools are a threat to the union’s power.

But when you talk to teachers, that’s not what they say. They tell you they want to curb charter school growth, not because it threatens their union, but because charters threaten the very survival of public schools.

Teachers see an existential threat

Latona teachers I spoke with described competition from surrounding charter schools as an existential threat to their school and an undermining influence on the public system.

“Charter schools are popping up everywhere and siphoning money and taking away students from our public school,” said King.

“I’ve had a lot of friends teach at charters,” said Linda Butala, an English language and Title I coordinator. “These schools often mean well. But charters have become another level of haves and have-nots in our system.”

The “haves” these teachers referred to are the “more savvy” parents who take advantage of what many charters offer, including smaller class sizes and newer resources and technology.

The disparity is especially acute when the charter is co-located on the same campus as an existing public school. Traci Rustin, a second-grade teacher, recalled that at a previous school where she worked, the charter co-located on the campus “had much fewer teachers and students of color.” The charter students had more abundant and newer technology, the school lunches were more nutritious, and the classroom supplies were up-to-date. And when students returned to the public school when the charter “didn’t work out,” the new technology and resources, along with the funding that had left her school, didn’t transfer back.

“In neighborhoods that are more racially homogeneous,” explained Rustin, “you see more well-abled children in the charter. You see a two-tier system going on.”

“Charter schools are set up to target certain populations of students and aren’t even set up to meet the needs of some students,” said King. And some parents who can’t meet the expectations set down by the charters know they shouldn’t bother trying to enroll their children in charters. Meanwhile, her school has to serve all students and parents and gets the families and children the charters aren’t interested in serving. “This leads to a more segregated system.”

Butala, who also previously worked at a school with a co-located charter, recalled when the charter moved in, her school immediately had to devise ways to place students in more crowded classrooms and share common areas — such as the playground and cafeteria. But it was never clear to her what the charter was being asked to share with her school. She watched the new charter lure students away from her school, often to see them return months later after the funding was lost.

She claimed her school’s test scores were better than the charter’s, but advocates for the charter were adept at convincing parents “the charter was better.”

Charters take their toll

Latona is experiencing a similar fate. The school doesn’t have to deal with a co-located charter, but competition from surrounding charters has taken a toll on the school.

The school’s student enrollment is virtually all Hispanic, with a quarter of the students being English language learners, and 90.6 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Yet, despite this challenging student population, the school significantly outperforms the state on academic measures of English language arts and mathematics and has been steadily improving, boosting proficiency levels by 12 points in ELA and nearly 19 points in math on the most recent assessments.

Nevertheless, Latona’s student enrollment has long been in decline, according to state data. In the 2017-18 school year, the school enrolled 170 students. Five years ago, it was 267; ten years ago, it was 336, and the student body was more racially diverse.

The enrollment declines have resulted in the school having to let go support staff, such as counselors and nurses, who are essential to the health and well-being of the students.

“I see more kids with social-emotional needs we simply are unable to meet,” said Butala. “If the child isn’t okay socially and emotionally, then we can’t be the best teachers we can be. But too often, we’re called upon not just to be teachers but to be parents and psychologists. We’re having to wear too many hats.”

“Maybe if we had the resources and staff we need, we wouldn’t see so many parents transferring their students to charters,” Rustin conjectured.

“Past the tipping point”

The argument Latona teachers make is not lost on parents, many of whom supported the teacher demands and joined them on the picket lines because they see how their schools are being slowly depleted of funding and resources due to charter school expansions.

“We’re past the tipping point on charters in Los Angeles,” Julian Vasquez Heilig told me in a phone interview. Heilig is a professor at California State University, Sacramento and the author of numerous studies on the impacts of accountability-based and market-based education reforms.

Heilig is not doctrinairely opposed to charter schools, as some proponents of charter schools accuse their critics of being. On the contrary, he formerly worked as an instructor in a charter school, was a charter school parent and donor, and at one point served as a charter board member.

“But the situation has changed,” he stated.

The “situation” he referred to is the long-held claim that charter schools, by their very nature, are a positive force in the public school system. The preferred narrative is that charter schools are just another form of “public” school, that competition from charters makes public schools up their game, and when “parents vote with their feet” and choose to transfer their children to charters, money that “follows the child” out of the public school has no negative effects on the remaining students because the school can adapt to a lower student head count.

Heilig and other charter school critics argue that theory of charter schools in no way resembles the realities of charters on the ground. And striking teachers in Los Angeles have opened people’s eyes to that reality.

“Now that class sizes and lack of resources and school support staff have grown intolerable in Los Angeles public schools, teachers are bringing the public’s attention to the reality of what charters have helped create,” Heilig explained.

“Five years ago, we weren’t talking about the financial impact of charter schools. Meanwhile, poor performing charters have been allowed to proliferate in the state,” and the public is largely unaware of the negative impact this has on the public education system. Until now.

The bad math of charter schools

Truth is, the financials of charter schools have never added up.

A 2017 report authored by Gordon Lafer, a political economist and an associate professor at the University of Oregon, looked at the spread of charter schools in California and found “hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy.”

Because charter operators often get permission to set up new schools wherever they want, “far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space,” Lafer concluded.

While public school districts can’t build new schools unless increases in enrollment or an influx of school-aged children demands them, charter schools can make the case based on subjective arguments having nothing to do with numbers, and when local school boards deny charter applicants, charter operators can appeal to the county or state board that, more often than not, overrules the local board.

As a result, the report found, “nearly 450 charter schools have opened in places that already had enough classroom space for all students.”

Los Angeles is the poster person of having too many schools chasing after too few students.

District enrollment peaked in 2004 at just under 750,000 and has been dropping ever since, not just due to the growth of charters. A combination of factors — including declining birth rates, population flight to the suburbs, the exorbitant cost of child care, and skyrocketing housing prices that discourage young couples from having children — has led to a steep decline in the population of school-aged children in the district.

Another flaw of charter school financials is that they add layers of administrative and infrastructure costs that public schools are expected to pay for, even though public school budgets are already under stress, and government leaders are unwilling to provide new funding.

“Charters contribute to the funding problems because we’re paying for two school systems,” argued Heilig: the local public one and the privately run charter ones operating like parallel districts to the local schools, with their own duplicative layers of administrative staff and infrastructure. “There’s an incredible amount of waste and inefficiency” in this arrangement.

“Changing our minds about charters”

“Charter proponents aren’t acknowledging these problems,” Heilig said.

Indeed, after news of the LA strike resolution spread, proponents of charter schools and choice responded angrily to limits put on charters.

Nina Rees, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told the New York Times that placing a cap on the growth of charter schools is a constraint “we cannot stand for.” And U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent fan of the charter industry, declared teachers’ unions were “the only thing standing in the way” of the spread of school choice.

But the stark contrast of the rhetoric from charter school hardliners to the reasonable requests of Los Angeles teachers, like Ingrid King, changes a conversation that has long been one-sided and clouded in lofty claims about charters.

“The strike has made me consider how charter school expansion is harming the city,” wrotecharter school teacher Riley McDonald Vaca in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times after seeing how the strike played out.

“As more money is invested in new ideas and new campuses, fewer resources and students are left for the many great programs still trying to gain their footing in our current district and charter schools,” she stated. “I believe in my charter school, but I don’t believe that the charter industry’s mission to increase its share of the educational marketplace in Los Angeles can solve the problems we all face educating children.”

“These issues with charters are coming from the bottom-up,” said Heilig. “Legislators are starting to take notice, and so has the public. We’re clearly changing our minds about charters.”

(Photo credit: Bill Raden, Capital & Main.)

{Originally published at Salon.]

1/10/2019 – “Choice” Has Become An Excuse For Charter And Voucher Schools To Discriminate

THIS WEEK: LA Teacher Strike … Charters Discriminate … #Red4Ed in 2019 … Dirty Secret of Ed Reform … Who Is Stifling Teachers?


“Choice” Has Become An Excuse For Charter And Voucher Schools To Discriminate

By Jeff Bryant

“When prominent advocates for ‘school choice’ … talk about how a market-based approach for education works, the very stories they might cite as successes actually reveal serious shortcomings of charter schools and vouchers, especially about how they can have detrimental effects on parents, children, and communities … While the primacy of parental choice might work well on a bumper sticker … this can create problems in a public education system that is supposed to serve the needs and interests of all students … Charter schools … while [they] advertise themselves as schools of choice, the reality is as much as you choose it, the school chooses you.”
Read more …


As L.A. Teachers Threaten To Strike, Union Leaders Are Fighting A Controversial School Reform Strategy


“If Los Angeles teachers go on strike this week or next, it won’t just be about dollars and cents — it will be part of a broader fight over the role of charter schools and an obscure but influential school reform idea … ‘This approach, drawn from Wall Street, is called the ‘portfolio’ model, and it has been criticized for having a negative effect on student equity and parent inclusion’ … For United Teachers Los Angeles, that includes stopping the growth of charter schools, which are tied closely to the portfolio model. Instead of dictating how schools should be run, school boards should contract out their management to outside groups, portfolio advocates believe. The term ‘portfolio’ came from comparing a school board to an investment manager.”
Read more …

Tailoring The Charter School Population

US News & World Report

“Charter schools and public schools of choice – those in school districts that allow students to choose from any number of schools instead of zoning them to just one – are less likely to encourage students with a history of poor behavior, low academic achievement or special needs to apply. Charter schools, in particular, were less likely to encourage students with a potentially significant special need to apply.… Researchers sent emails from fictitious parents to nearly 6,500 schools … asking whether any student is eligible to apply to the school and how to do so. Each email signaled either a disability status, poor behavior, high or low prior academic achievement, or no characteristic at all … If an email signaled a child had a significant special need, charter schools were 7 percentage points less likely to respond … Students with disabilities are, on average, twice as expensive to educate than students without a disability, and those with severe disabilities, they said, can cost eight to 14 times to educate.”
Read more …

The #RedforEd Wave Is Likely To Build, Not Subside, In 2019

The Progressive

“The wave of education activism shows no signs of ebbing … Educators in Alabama … held the state’s first #RedforEd rally … citing rising health insurance premiums as well as inadequate pay and minimal classroom funding … Teachers in Louisiana, too, are contemplating collective action in 2019, in defiance of their state’s restrictive labor laws … Charter school teachers in Chicago … walked off the job in the nation’s first-ever collective action by charter school employees … Teachers in Oakland, California are currently gearing up to walk off the job, citing pay that is thousands of dollars less than that of teachers in neighboring districts.”
Read more …

The ‘Dirty Secret’ About Educational Innovation

Hechinger Report

“As part of the federal recovery effort to boost the economy after the 2008 recession, the U.S. Education Department suddenly had a big pot of money to give away to ‘innovations’ in education … More than $1.5 billion has been spent on almost 200 ideas … Big chunks went to building new KIPP charter schools and training thousands of new Teach for America recruits to become teachers … Many of the grant projects involved technology … Only 12 of the 67 innovations, or 18%, were found to have any positive impact on student achievement.”
Read more …

Arizona: Proposed Teacher Gag Law Part of National Push


Peter Greene writes, “The proposed teacher gag law in Arizona may look like a piece of small-time revenge legislation, but it is actually part of a larger movement to silence teachers in and out of the classroom … If we roll the clock back to January of 2018, we find Dave LaRock, a Virginia choicer, proposing a Teacher Code of Ethics that reads like a rough draft of the … AZ version. But it turns out that LaRock appears to have cribbed his proposal from a website called StopK12Indoctrination … StopK12 posted their version of the Teacher Code of Ethics in June of 2017, and it’s clear that the other teacher codes are all versions of this original … If you decide you want to contribute to the muzzling of teachers, the link will take you to a site that will let you contribute to the David Horowitz Freedom Center … [David Horowitz’s] Center for the Study of Popular Culture has been tagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the ‘right-wing foundations and think tanks support[ing] efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable.’ He’s a vocal anti-Muslim who joined the smear party labeling Barack Obama a secret Muslim. He has been very active in trying to squelch liberal voices in college and university teaching positions. And, perhaps most notably, this Steve Bannon buddy was the early mentor of Stephen Miller, the angry voice of racism in the Trump administration.”
Read more …

“Choice” Has Become An Excuse For Charter And Voucher Schools To Discriminate

When prominent advocates for “school choice,” such as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, talk about how a market-based approach for education works, the very stories they might cite as successes actually reveal serious shortcomings of charter schools and vouchers, especially about how they can have detrimental effects on parents, children, and communities. Take, for example, the case of Krystl Newton.

When the private Christian school Newton’s daughter attended closed, she was able to find a charter school near their home in Wake County, North Carolina, that provided a school culture similar to the private academy, with strict discipline, high academic standards, and none of the “gang stuff” (her words) she heard plagued the public schools.

Her daughter thrived in the new charter, so when Newton’s younger son reached kindergarten age, she was pleased the charter would enroll him under their family-members-first policy.

But after his kindergarten year, when he was ready to move to first grade, there was a problem.

Early in the boy’s development, Newton had observed symptoms of what she came to believe was a developmental disability resembling Tourette’s Syndrome. Although an official diagnosis of the disorder couldn’t be made until the child turned eight, Newton had already consulted specialists and gone to the trouble of developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a document that is developed for each public school child who needs special supports due to a physical, mental, or emotional disability. Because her daughter also had a mild form of disability when she enrolled in the charter, Newton assumed the charter would be fully accepting and supportive of her son’s situation too.

But the charter administrators felt otherwise.

“They wouldn’t accept our information,” she told me in a phone conversation, referring to her son’s IEP and other documents advising how to conduct his education program. Instead, the charter administrators said they would rely on their own “team” to develop a plan for her son and would “let you know” what the school would choose to support.

The plan the charter school ultimately came up with had few of the supports her son would need, Newton believed. Also, the school offered no recourse or way for her to appeal their decision. “They really had no intention of accommodating my son’s needs,” she said.

Fortunately, during the summer when her son was between kindergarten and first grade, Newton learned of a nearby public school that had the supports her son needed—including visits from an occupational therapist and access to instruction in a smaller class size. By the time I spoke with her, her son was attending a public middle school and “thriving,” she said. The special education staff had “partnered with our family,” she told me. “It was a terrific move.”

The feel-good story school choice advocates would make of this outcome is that Newton and her children benefited from having a community where there were lots of school options, and the fact they ultimately found a place for her son in a public school, while her daughter eventually graduated from the charter, is proof a market-based system in which parents have to essentially “shop” for schools to find the “best fit” for each child is what works best.

But Julie Mead has a problem with that.

Does ‘All Children’ Mean All?

“When public funds are tied to programs, there’s an expectation that the programs are then accessible to the entire community,” she told me in a phone interview. In Newton’s case, although the charter her children attended received public funds from the state and was subject to federal laws that ensure students with disabilities have free appropriate public education, the charter school was in fact not accessible to all public school children simply by the way it tailored its program to exclude students with more severe disabilities.

Mead, a University of Wisconsin professor, recently co-authored with Suzanne Eckes a policy brief for the National Education Policy Center warning that redirecting public funds to charter schools and voucher programs to pay for private school tuition subsidizes discrimination with taxpayer money.

The brief points to numerous research reports and news accounts finding that private schools participating in voucher programs often deny access to students and families on the basis of religious or sexual identity, learning ability, or fluency in English. Studies also show charter schools often enroll racially and economically homogeneous student populations and tend to have fewer students with special needs.

The authors contend that expanding more charters and voucher programs increases discrimination in schools because federal laws don’t hold public, private, and charter schools to the same standards, state legislatures too often ignore discrimination in creating charter and voucher programs, and privately operated schools have a free hand to design programs to discourage—or even prevent—undesirable students from enrolling.

Charters on Murky Legal Ground

The authors find discrimination is more likely in voucher programs than in charters, because private schools aren’t subject to the same laws as public schools. However, they point out that because of recent court decisions, charters inhabit a murky legal ground where their status as public or private entities is not settled.

In the case of Newton’s son, federal law requires that the charter provide necessary services for his education, no matter how costly and regardless of whether the school had ever offered the services before his enrollment.

But as the NEPC report explains, charter schools have programming authority that allows them to “exclude some populations.” Charters are free to gear their instructional services to specific ethnic or racial student populations. Or, as in Newton’s case, charter school officials can assure parents that their school has the necessary services to provide for a specific disability, and if the parents, as Newton did, opt for a school with existing expertise instead of the charter, then, “in such cases,” the brief explains, “the [charter] school official would not have discriminated, but the result—a school that serves fewer students with disabilities—occurs just the same.”

No doubt, the practices of charter schools will continue to be matters for litigation. However, few parents have the time or wherewithal to take these cases to court, charter authorizers and state officials who oversee these schools have few incentives to enforce stricter non-discrimination guidelines, and the charter industry shrugs off the problem.

But the real value in the NEPC brief is how it takes on the argument made by school choice cheerleaders that evidence of discrimination and exclusion in the privately operated education sector doesn’t matter.

Choice to Discriminate

The brief looks back at DeVos’ contentious budget hearing in the House earlier this year when Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark asked her how a Department of Education under her leadership would respond to instances when schools receiving federal dollars were found to discriminate on the basis of race or sexual identity. In response, DeVos indicated her emphasis would be on states having “flexibility” and “parents making choices on behalf of their students.”

Since that hearing, DeVos has backtracked somewhat on allowing federal money to go to schools that discriminate against LGBT students, but on numerous occasions when she has been questioned about the problematic track record of school choice, her backstop argument has been that parental choice matters more than academic outcomes or social justice consequences, including increased inequality or discrimination.

Unfortunately, joining DeVos and school choice advocates in the Republican Party in their argument are a lot of Democrats. For instance, Peter Cunningham, communications director for former-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has suggested that fighting discrimination that causes racially segregated schools is “maybe … not worth it.”

In op-eds for prominent media outlets, Cunningham has declared that efforts to racially integrate schools have “hit a wall,” and because “ending poverty and integration are politically difficult and financially expensive goals,” the more important aim is to press for “needed reforms” in schools. At the very top of the “reforms” he advocates for are “the rights of parents and the best interests of children.” He declares, “No one can dispute the right of parents to choose their child’s school.”

While the primacy of parental choice might work well on a bumper sticker, Mead explains why this can create problems in a public education system that is supposed to serve the needs and interests of all students.

Understanding the Trade-Offs

“People need to understand what the trade-offs are between these choice options and parent and student rights,” Mead says.

Mead, who started her career as an educator of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, says the popular view of “choice” espoused by many—that parent choice has primacy over issues of equity—reminds her of what happened after the U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board ruling that outlawed racially segregated public schools. In retaliation to the ruling, many states in the South set up segregated academies for white students and justified the schools with arguments for parent choice.

Arguments for the primacy of parent choice today are far more sophisticated, with proponents saying that parents who opt into charter and voucher schools that are racially or ethnically homogeneous are choosing “culturally affirming” schools for their children. School choice proponents decry non-discrimination laws as “one-size-fits-all” impositions on privately operated schools. And rearguard defenders of the accountability movement from the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama contend that as long as student scores on standardized tests improve, the widespread segregation proliferating in the privately operated education sector doesn’t matter.

Representatives of the charter industry generally fight every effort to ensure their schools don’t discriminate. In North Carolina, where Newton lives, a charter school advocate who appeared at a prominent forum on charters said it was “not fair” for charter schools to have the same percentages and severity of special education students that local public schools have.

The hands-off message the charter industry leaders convey to lawmakers, many of whom receive substantial campaign donations from the industry, is that any regulations with the objective of “protecting students and taxpayers” are “harmful constraints” on their schools. And policies governing their schools should “focus on what a charter school is achieving, not how it does the work.”

These arguments come dangerously close, says Mead, to “transferring guarantees that we should have in society to provide all students with access to education to a permission-based system where we grant permissions to violate guaranteed access.”

She concedes, “It’s certainly difficult to create systems that are non-discriminatory. But if you get a system that departs from those guarantees of access and excludes large parts of the public, it’s no longer politically defensible.”

Her concern is, “As we shift into systems of choice, then we’ll shift accountability from the collective to the individual. So at some point, it leads to a situation where parents who’ve been wronged in the system are told, ‘If you’re not happy then it’s your fault; you should have chosen better.’”

Who Gets to Choose?

No doubt, our public education system has struggled at fulfilling the promise to guarantee an education for every student. But during the previous century, a progressive movement in the country gradually opened the schoolhouse door to students of low-income and working-class families, girls and women, and students of all races, religions, languages, and abilities.

Yes, there are still great inequities in the system. But why would we introduce new agents that likely make inequities worse?

“We need to find ways to ensure equitable access,” says Mead. “I’m not ready to give up that goal.”

What she and co-author Eckes recommend is for Congress to amend federal anti-discrimination laws to ensure state voucher programs operate in non-discriminatory ways and for federal agencies to consider withholding tax-exempt status and other benefits from schools that don’t meet non-discrimination standards.

At the state level, legislatures should include explicit anti-discrimination language in their voucher laws to ensure that private schools participating in publicly funded voucher programs do not discriminate against students and staff. And state lawmakers should adopt or amend charter school laws to ensure that throughout the life of a charter school (from proposal to renewal) there is a regulatory function that ensures every charter is attracting and retaining reasonably heterogeneous student populations.

As for Newton, her experience with school choice has persuaded her to urge parents with special needs children to “give public schools a chance.” About charter schools, she explains that while these schools advertise themselves as schools of choice, the reality is “as much as you choose it, the school chooses you.”

(Originally published by Alternet.)

12/13/2018 – Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

THIS WEEK: Charter Politics Changing … Chicago Charter Union Wins … LA Teachers Next To Strike … For-Profit Collages Screw Students … DeVos Employees Hate Her


Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

By Jeff Bryant

“A little more than six years ago, a group of public school advocates, political strategists, and progressive-minded educators from around the country met in an informal gathering in Washington, DC, to address the burning question of how to lead a resurgence in progressive values in education policy and politics … The informal group gathered in the Beltway decided to create the Education Opportunity Network to be a strategy and messaging center to bring education policy back to its progressive roots and urge progressive Democrats to add progressive education policy to their lists of issues they would advocate for … Today, after nearly 300 newsletters, more than 360 articles and blogposts, a subscriber base of 60,000 education advocates, nearly a thousand reader comments, thousands of social media followers, and with a media reach that includes prominent national outlets, EON finds itself in a transformed education policy landscape.”
Read more …


New Democratic Governors Show Shift On US Charter Schools

Associated Press

“As Democrats flipped seven governor seats … the incoming governors in California, Illinois, and New Mexico have all said they want to take the rare step of putting a temporary halt on new charter schools. New governors in Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, and Nevada also are expressing less enthusiasm for charters than their predecessors … Democrats see opposing school choice initiatives as a way to resist DeVos and President Donald Trump. While existing charter schools won’t be touched … overall growth will stall and for-profit schools will be in peril .… In California … in the most expensive state superintendent race in U.S. history, in which Marshall Tuck, who previously led a charter school network, lost to union-backed state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, a fellow Democrat.”
Read more …

The Nation’s First Charter School Strike Has Ended With A Union Victory

Education Week

“The Chicago Teachers Union announced … that the bargaining team for the educators at the Acero charter school network reached a tentative deal with management. The deal agrees to raise pay for teachers and paraprofessionals … The tentative deal also shortens the school year and reduces the teachers’ work day … Union leaders are now heralding the victory as the path forward for educators at charter schools. Just about 11% of charter schools across the country are unionized.”
Read more …

Protesters Shut Down Los Angeles Board Of Education Meeting

Los Angeles Times

“A group of at least 50 protesters shut down the Los Angeles Board of Education meeting early … Two major possibilities color just about everything in Los Angeles Unified — the growing prospect of a teachers strike and Supt. Austin Beutner’s still largely confidential plan for a massive district reorganization. The major theme of the protest, organized by teachers union allies, was support for the teachers, though student demands also were a part of it … District officials and the teachers union have been in negotiations for more than 18 months, and a January strike appears increasingly likely. The two sides are nearly done with fact-finding, the final step of a negotiation process.”
Read more …

What Do Students Do When A For-Profit College Closes?

The Atlantic

“More than 19,000 students [are] affected by the abrupt closure of Education Corporation of America, one of the country’s largest private for-profit college operators, which runs Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute, and Golf Academy of America. The for-profit operator had been in a precarious position for some time, given a pending loss of accreditation and access to federal financial-aid funds … When a college closes abruptly, students can often have their federal student loans discharged … Historically only a fraction of students who were eligible for such discharges have ever received them … Even though students may be eligible to get their loans discharged, Lee says, they are unlikely to get any credit for the work they’ve already done, and that doesn’t account for the money they spent out of their own pocket … All of this is happening to a student body not well equipped to weather major setbacks. Statistically, students at for-profit colleges are more likely to be low-income … and are less likely to have the resources to draw on to be able to come up with a good Plan B.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Gets Bad Reviews From Employees As Morale At Education Department Plummets, Survey Finds

The Washington Post

“The Education Department had a morale drop of 12.4 percentage points — from 59.7% in 2017 to 47.3% in 2018. It was one of the steepest declines among all federal agencies … Over the past year, career department employees have privately complained about DeVos’s leadership, saying their expertise has been ignored by her political appointees to top jobs. And they have expressed opposition to many of the positions she has taken. DeVos rolled back Obama-era civil rights protections for some marginalized students and made it easier for for-profit colleges to operate. DeVos has also limited the ability of employees to work from home and fought with the department’s union … The morale drops are hardly a surprise, given the hostility that Trump and many of his appointees have directed toward the agencies and their missions. DeVos has said she wouldn’t mind if the department closed, expressing her long-standing opposition to federal involvement in local education.”
Read more …

Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

A little more than six years ago, a group of public school advocates, political strategists, and progressive-minded educators from around the country met in an informal gathering in Washington, DC, to address the burning question of how to lead a resurgence in progressive values in education policy and politics.

At the time, Republican state governors and legislators were engaged in a withering assault on public schools to strip them of financial resources they needed to educate a population of students increasingly wracked by poverty, homelessness, and the traumas of widespread racism and economic inequity. A Democratic presidential administration led by Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was continuing its campaign to ratchet down more pressure on schools and teachers to conform to practices most educators objected to and increase standardized test scores or face punitive actions. Influential billionaires and private foundations were stoking the coffers of political candidates and think tanks to back charter schools and other market-based forms of competition to public schools. And education policy makers and influential media pundits seemed stuck in a consensus that the nation’s public schools had failed and bad teachers were the problem.

In the political arena, the progressive left had generally left the education battlefield to centrist Democrats and radical Republicans who more often than not agree on how schools should be governed. Public schools had virtually no prominent champions in the progressive faction on Capitol Hill, and progressive advocacy groups uniformly left education policy off their checklists of issues they cared about.

Faced with this bleak landscape, the informal group gathered in the Beltway decided to create the Education Opportunity Network to be a strategy and messaging center to bring education policy back to its progressive roots and urge progressive Democrats to add progressive education policy to their lists of issues they would advocate for.

Beginning with a bold “Education Declaration to Rebuild America,” EON set out a principled agenda based on the progressive ideals of public education as a primary vehicle to provide opportunities for individual advancement, promote social mobility, and share democratic values. The declared goal was to ensure all who envision a more just, progressive, and fair society joined in the fight for the public schools the nation deserves.

Today, after nearly 300 newsletters, more than 360 articles and blogposts, a subscriber base of 60,000 education advocates, nearly a thousand reader comments, thousands of social media followers, and with a media reach that includes prominent national outlets, EON finds itself in a transformed education policy landscape.

Teachers are engaged in massive protest actions to call attention to the lack of resources in schools and the needs for increased funding and relief from the obsession with standardized testing and harsh accountabilities. Grassroots advocacy by students, parents, and community organizers is starting to stymie the steady march of privatization in some communities and bring back democratic governance to school districts that had been deprived of voting rights for years. Prominent news outlets have gone from unfairly bashing classroom teachers to portraying their struggles with empathy. A new slate of Democratic governors has pledged support for traditional public schools and openly expressed skepticism of charter schools and other forms of privatization. And many of the progressive candidates who helped Democrats take back the US House of Representatives this fall vowed to support public schools rather than shutting them down and pledged to put the emphasis back on making neighborhood schools the best they can be rather than funding more alternatives that rarely live up to their promises.

With the holidays approaching, EON will take stock of this transformation and take an extended break to reflect on where this project has been and where it should go from here. Your input in the comment section is welcome, or please leave a comment on the EON Facebook page where today’s newsletter is posted. Here’s wishing you the best of the season and seeing you back here in the New Year.

12/6/2018 – Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

THIS WEEK: Corporations Screw Schools … HW Bush Was First Reformer … GOP: Defund Public Schools … Color Of School Closings … Social Disruption Hurts Kids


Here’s Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“The tradition in American communities, where local schools have long been governed by democratically elected boards. But that American tradition has been undermined or overturned, especially in communities of color, where less democratic forms of governance have become widespread … For decades, a wave of state takeovers of school districts overseeing tens of thousands of students has stripped elected school boards in these communities of their governing power and denied voters the right to local governance of their public schools. These state takeovers have been happening almost exclusively in African American and Latinx school districts … However, there are recent signs these communities are fighting back and frequently winning to gradually claw back their local, democratic governance.”
Read more …


Corporate Tax Breaks Cost U.S. Schools Billions Of Lost Revenue: Report


“In fiscal 2017, U.S. public schools lost $1.8 billion across 28 states through corporate tax incentives over which most schools themselves had little or no control. The 10 most affected states could hire more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues … States and cities have long used abatements, subsidies and other tax incentives to lure companies … ‘Cities … end up granting subsidies in a way that cuts out control by school boards, parents and others’ … In Oregon … Hillsboro School District lost nearly $97 million … The School District of Philadelphia … lost the second most revenue at $62 million.”
Read more …

How President George H.W. Bush Helped Pave The Way For Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post

“George H.W. Bush … calling himself ‘the education president … helped pave the rise of school choice advocate Betsy DeVos … Bush advanced … a national education strategy … pushed for school ‘accountability’ … with standardized test scores as the key metric. And his plan envisioned a new kind of public school that was, essentially, what became the charter movement … The cornerstone of the Bush education blueprint was an elite bipartisan consensus … Bush’s successors — both Republicans and Democrats — … advanced his administrative agenda. Phrases such as ‘standards and accountability’ and ‘school choice,’ once deployed only by policy wonks, are now common terms in the national education dialogue.”
Read more …

County GOP Chair: Oklahoma Should Quit Public Education

Associated Press Post

“Republican leadership in one of Oklahoma’s most populous counties has sent a letter to the state’s lawmakers calling for an end to government-run public schools, or if that is too much, to at least find alternative funding sources for the system besides tax revenue … The letter … requested that the state no longer manage the public school system, or at least consider consolidating school districts. Public schools should seek operational money from sponsorships, advertising, endowments, and tuition fees instead of taxes.”
Read more …

A Generation Of School Closings


“In the time it has taken for a child to grow up in Chicago, city leaders have either closed or radically shaken up some 200 public schools — nearly a third of the entire district … These decisions … have meant 70,160 children — the vast majority of them black — have seen their schools closed or all staff in them fired. That’s more than all of the students and schools in Boston … The idea was to close them and replace them with new ‘renaissance’ schools that promised something better … Chicago has done that again and again, opening in the same time period almost the same number of schools it has closed — 190 … White students have been nearly untouched. In almost 17 years, just 533 white students have experienced a closing … Research reports have suggested that school closings have harmful effects for children who go through them … An analysis of the 2013 closings, found ‘closing schools caused large disruptions without clear benefits for students.'”
Read more …

Students Show Up To School More Often When They See ‘Familiar Faces,’ New Study Finds


“New research shows … social disruption … can affect how often students show up to school. When students have more ‘familiar faces’ around them in class, they’re less likely to be chronically absent … Being surrounded by more familiar faces was linked to higher attendance … Extremely high rates of student turnover … and … attending more schools is correlated with lower academic performance.”
Read more …